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PrEP for HIV Prevention: Here’s What You Need To Know

If you’re worried about contracting HIV, you might be considering pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a prescription medication that that reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by 99 percent and is at least 75 percent effective in protecting individuals who use injected drugs

The first step is to see a healthcare provider. But you may feel a little self-conscious broaching the topic of starting PrEP, especially if it’s your first appointment with the doctor. 

It’s important to be candid with your doctor about sensitive topics like sex and drug use to ensure you get the healthcare you need. Part of a doctor’s job is talking about personal matters with their patients, and your doctor will do their best to ease your discomfort.

Who Should Consider Taking PrEP?

PrEP is for people who do not have HIV but are at risk of contracting it through injected drug use and sexual activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends PrEP be considered for men, women, transgender and nonbinary individuals of all ages who: 

  • Are HIV negative

  • Have a sexual partner with HIV

  • Have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection in the last 6 months

  • Do not consistently use protection condoms during sex

  • Use injected drugs and/or share needles, syringes or drug equipment with others

  • Were previously prescribed non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and engage in risky behaviors and/or have used multiple courses of PEP 

Preparing for Your Doctor Visit 

To prepare for your appointment, you should: 

Learn about PrEP. Online resources can help you develop a better understanding of what PrEP is and how it helps prevent HIV. You should also make a list of reasons why you think PrEP would be beneficial to share with your doctor. 

Know your health history. Create a list of your medical history, including illnesses, allergies and medications you are currently taking. Having this list on hand at your appointment can be helpful to your doctor.

During Your Visit 

Be forthcoming. Tell your provider early on in your appointment that you are interested in PrEP. Be prepared to share details, of why you would like a PrEP prescription, such as sexual activity or injected drug use. 

Ask questions and take notes. Ask your doctor any questions you have about PrEP and ask for clarification about anything you do not understand. Taking notes during the visit will help you remember what was discussed.

After Your Visit 

Review your notes. Read over what was discussed and any educational materials your doctor provided. Call your doctor if you have additional questions. 

Consider your options. In addition to PrEP, there are other ways to prevent contracting HIV. You may want to speak with others who use PrEP to hear first-hand accounts before making your decision to start. 

Schedule a follow-up appointment. If your doctor ordered blood work during your initial visit, you may need to schedule a follow-up visit to go over your results. 

PrEP is not for everybody. It can have negative effects on your kidneys and bones, so if you have kidney disease or osteoporosis, PrEP might not be a good option. If you are HIV positive, PrEP can complicate treatment, which is why your doctor will likely order lab work to make sure you are HIV negative before prescribing PrEP.

4 Things To Know Before Starting PrEP 

  1. It’s a daily medication. You will need to take PrEP once a day for it to be effective. 

  2. PrEP does not protect against other STIs. Though highly effective in preventing HIV transmission, PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections. It is important to continue using condoms. Combining condoms with PrEP can further reduce your risk of HIV. 

  3. More frequent doctor visits. You will need to visit the doctor more frequently when taking PrEP. Your doctor will refill your prescription and order lab work every three months to test for HIV and ensure your kidneys and liver are healthy. 

  4. PrEP side effects. PrEP is usually well-tolerated by most patients. But some people report mild side effects such as diarrhea, fatigue, headache, nausea and stomach pain. These side effects may go away over time as your body adjusts to the medication. 

If you’ve started PrEP but are having trouble remembering to take it each day or want to stop taking it, talk with your healthcare provider. 

Knowing the facts about PrEP can help you initiate a conversation with your doctor and advocate for your sexual health.

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